A DUAL-TRACK APPROACH

2019-09-10 21:33:14 Beijing Review 2019年32期

By Wen Qing

One day in 1969, a 15-year-old middle school student waved goodbye to his family in Beijing and headed for a desolate county in the northwest. In the late 1960s and 1970s, large numbers of educated urban youths were sent to the countryside to work and the teen was one of many. His name is Xi Jinping.

It was not a pleasant journey. It took Xi and the other young students a whole day on the train from Beijing to Tongchuan, a city in Shaanxi Province. After spending a night there, they hopped onto trucks for a bumpy journey for two more days. Xi and his friends had been asked to go to a remote village, Liangjiahe. They had to walk the last few miles to the village as the mountain tracks were too narrow for vehicles.

“Trucks ran round and round on the bumpy mountain roads… Every time I saw the bleak Loess Plateau, I thought we were about to arrive. But I would find more bleak places waiting ahead. I felt like the driver was taking us to the end of the world,” recalled Dai Ming, who was on the same truck with Xi.

Dais memory of that journey has been recorded in Xi Jinpings Seven Years as an Educated Youth, a compilation of interviews later conducted about the time Xi, today President of China, lived in Liangjiahe.

Life in the village was harsh. The students lived with scarce food and intense agricultural labor. Xi said in an interview in 2004 that they didnt get to eat meat for months.

The bigger city that the village was part of faced the same harsh conditions. Yanan was a city of barren lands, frequent droughts and floods, with an underdeveloped economy.

Fast forward to 50 years since Xis trip to Liangjiahe. Today, it takes only a couple of hours to go to Shaanxis Yanchuan County from Beijing by plane. The narrow mountain tracks have given way to broad asphalted roads where vehicles whizz past. The arid environment has improved with the once yellow and bald plateau covered by greenery.

Peoples living standards have also improved. In May, Yanchuan and Yichuan, the last two counties in Yanan that were still below the poverty line, shook off their penury. According to the provincial poverty alleviation office, only 1.06 percent of the population in Yanchuan and 0.58 percent in Yichuan are still impoverished.

How did this social and economic revolution happen in this historical revolutionary base? Developing modern agriculture and tourism is part of the answer, Yan Jianhua, an official of the Poverty Alleviation Bureau of Yanan, told Beijing Review.

Growing money on trees

“Every one of nine apples produced and sold in China comes from Yanan,” Yan said proudly. Apple orchards have become a money spinner for many local farmers, like 61-year-old Zhang Zhiming.

The Zhangs became impoverished due to severe illnesses in the family. A plot of land was their only source of income but the traditional crops they planted couldnt produce a sufficient income. Then nine years ago, Zhang began to plant apple trees. For seven long years, the time it took for the trees to bear fruit, he had to wait. The patience was rewarded last year when the trees began bearing fruit.

He sold the apples to a company that is buying apples from poor households to help them market their products and earned almost 70,000 yuan ($10,146). That was the year the delighted Zhang family said goodbye to poverty.

“Compared with growing corn, the traditional crop, apples are far more lucrative,”Yan said. Apples grown on one mu of land can yield 7,000 yuan ($1,014), while corn grown on the same plot will fetch no more than 600 yuan ($87). Mu is a traditional Chinese land area measurement, equaling 667 square meters.

Yanan apples are famous for their high quality, thanks to the high altitude, abundant sunlight, large day and night temperature difference, and the dry weather. Encouraged by the local government, more and more households started to plant apple trees. By 2018, Yanan had 230,000 hectares of apple orchards producing 3 million tons of the fruit.

“Our next step is to add value to the apple industry through post-processing, including sorting, packing, storing and marketing,” Yan said.

In Yichuan, the apples are grown on the mountains as the fruit likes sunshine. In the valley, farmers have switched to modern greenhouse agriculture supported by the local government.

Wangwan, a village in Yichuan with 110 households, was an impoverished village with over 40 percent living in poverty. Most of them were corn planters or worked as migrant laborers in cities.